Police Income and Occupational Gender Inequality

Date01 December 2019
Published date01 December 2019
Subject MatterArticles
untitled Article
Police Quarterly
Police Income and
2019, Vol. 22(4) 481–510
! The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1098611119862654
Gender Inequality
Xiaoshuang Iris Luo1
Cyrus Schleifer2, and
Christopher M. Hill2
Research has found a meaningful income gap between males and females across
several occupational settings, and this is also true within law enforcement. As
more female workers enter the criminal justice system, it is important to revisit
and update these patterns of gender inequality to account for the changing gender
dynamics within this occupation. Using Current Population Survey data, we docu-
ment the gender differences in pay among police over the past 28 years. Police
officers experience income advantage compared with the general working popula-
tion, but they also show a stable gender gap in pay. While this stable inequality is
better than other public-sector jobs—which have experienced a growth in the
gender pay gap—it represents a continued disadvantage for police women, despite
the growing number of women working in law enforcement and the rules governing
public-sector employment. We further decompose the gendered pattern in police
pay by whether these individuals work for federal, state, or local agencies, and find
that those working for state government show stark declines in the gender gap in pay
while those working for local or federal agencies experience little to no change in
this gender income inequality over time. We conclude with a discussion of the policy
implications of our findings and directions for future research on gender inequality
within law enforcement occupations.
1University of California, Irvine, CA, USA
2University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK, USA
Corresponding Author:
Cyrus Schleifer, University of Oklahoma, Department of Sociology, 780 Van Vleet Oval, Kaufman Hall 331,
Norman, OK 73019, USA.
Email: cyrus.schleifer@ou.edu

Police Quarterly 22(4)
police officers, gender, income inequality, public-sector occupations
Gender inequality in earnings is a persistent feature of the U.S. labor market
and has been well-documented over the past several decades. Research has con-
sistently found that women have and continue to receive lower pay, on average,
than their male counterparts (England, Allison, & Wu, 2007; England, Herbert,
Kilbourne, Reid, & Megdal, 1994; Misra & Strader, 2013). A fact sheet from the
National Partnership for Women and Families (2018) shows that women with
master’s degrees working full time are paid 73 cents for every dollar paid to
similar men. The gender gap in pay is largely the result of between-occupational
inequality (Mouw & Kalleberg, 2010), with women selecting or being sorted into
lower paying occupations. (We use the term sorted here to suggest an institu-
tional sorting such that employers and families received expectations regarding
gendered roles that will shape the choices of women as well as shaping the
decisions that others might make for them.) Nevertheless, there remains varying
degrees of within-occupational gender inequality, with the magnitude of these
gender disparities fluctuating widely across occupational domains (Hegewisch &
Liepmann, 2010).
Policing, as a male-dominated occupation (Garcia, 2003; Schulz, 1995; Schulze,
2011), provides an interesting case study for exploring within-occupational gender
inequality. Despite the gendered character of law enforcement, the proportion of
female police officers has steadily increased since the 1950s (Schulz, 1995). This
growth in the proportion of female police officers is reflective of the relatively high
earning potential for these individuals compared with national averages in the
U.S. labor force. This also provides a context for exploring income inequality
within this hypermasculine occupation (Schulze, 2011).
Using Current Population Survey (CPS) data from 1990 to 2018, we can
observe how gender dynamics within this occupation have changed over time.
We are not the first to explore these processes, and this study builds upon
research on police compensation (Ehrenberg, 1973; Grosskopf, Hayes, &
Kennedy, 1985; Schmenner, 1973), female underrepresentation among police
(Langton, 2010; Reaves, 2015; Schuck, 2014), within-occupational gender
income inequality (Blau & Kahn, 2000; Mouw & Kalleberg, 2010), the gender
pay gap in the public sector (Miller, 2009; Reese & Warner, 2012), and the union
effect on police pay (Bartel & Lewin, 1981; Ehrenberg & Goldstein, 1975; Feuille
& Delaney, 1986; Frandsen, 2016). We offer three novel contributions to these
areas of study:
(a) The CPS allows us to capture national-level trends in law enforcement
occupations over a 28-year period. With this information, we can uncover any
gendered patterns in the overall police labor market that are not reliant on

Luo et al.
regional or city-specific data that might be influenced by the unique laws, norms,
and cultural expectations of these places. (b) The CPS captures information
about different types of public-sector jobs, which allows us to decompose the
trends of gender income differences among police officers working in local, state,
and federal government positions. Finally, (c) theory suggests that in hyper-
masculine occupations, women will experience aggregating disadvantages
across their career course (Cotter, Hermsen, Ovadia, & Vanneman, 2001).
These CPS data allow us to explore these processes while accounting for any
gendered effects of union and job tenure on police income to determine whether
this feature of the brass ceiling (Schulz, 2004) is present nationally within this
occupation. To our knowledge, this is the first study to map out these processes
using national-level labor market data.
Occupational Gender Inequality
The gender gap in pay is one of the most resilient features of the U.S. labor
market over the past century (Blau & Kahn, 2006, 2007; England, 2005; Mouw
& Kalleberg, 2010). Following World War II, there was a large and steady
increase in the number of women who entered the paid labor force. Goldin
(2006) called this increase the quiet revolution and claimed that it marked
“the most significant change in the labor market during the past century”
(p. 1). Despite this quiet revolution, women have not achieved equal status.
Studies have found that women get disproportionally sorted into lower
paying jobs (Cohen & Huffman, 2003; England, 2005; Petersen & Morgan,
1995). Moreover, the occupations that see the largest growth in the proportion
of female employees have also experienced a devaluation of the work within
these domains as the occupations become culturally defined as feminized
(England et al., 2007; Levanon, England, & Allison, 2009). Within-
occupational conditions often systematically disadvantage female employees, a
notion captured in the glass ceiling metaphor that describes the barriers that
prevent women from obtaining parity with their male counterparts (Caceres-
Rodriguez, 2013; Cotter et al., 2001; Fernandez, 1998; Naff & Thomas, 1994;
Scholarios & Taylor, 2011). Others suggest that cultural expectations concerning
marriage (Cheng, 2016; Dougherty, 2006; Killewald & Gough, 2013) and moth-
erhood (Budig & England, 2001; Budig & Hodges, 2010; Korenman &
Neumark, 1992) play an additional role in the institutional and occupational
sorting of women into lower paying and less upwardly mobile career paths.
Several studies have focused on distinct occupations to determine how these
gendered processes operate. Studies have found that gender shapes occupational
expectations and pay in call centers (Scholarios & Taylor, 2011), managerial
occupations (Cohen & Huffman, 2007), among scientists and engineers
(Prokos & Padavic, 2005), college administrators (Sigelman, Milward, &
Shepard, 1982), nurses and hospitals (Schumacher & Hirsch, 1997), and

Police Quarterly 22(4)
American clergy (Schleifer & Miller, 2018), to name a few examples. Despite this
growing body of within-occupational research, few studies have focused on the
gender gap in pay among police officers. A possible reason scholars have not
focused on gender differences in police pay is the assumption that jobs within the
public sector are formally required by law not to discriminate on the basis of race,
gender, or sexual orientation (Caceres-Rodriguez, 2013). Men and women paid
differently in the same job violates the Equal Pay Act (Prokos & Padavic, 2005),
and the expectation exists that public-sector occupations will adhere to these
formal rules—such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Equal Employment
Opportunity Act of 1972—to a greater degree than private-sector occupations
due to more formal oversight.
However, these assumptions that public-sector jobs will not experience this
form of occupational gender inequality are not aligned with research in this area.
Studies have found that occupational gender inequality also exists in the public
sector at the local, state, and federal level (Bishu & Alkadry, 2017; Reese &
Warner, 2012; Tandrayen-Ragoobur & Pydayya, 2016). For example,
Tandrayen-Ragoobur and Pydayya (2016) found a resilient gender gap in pay
for both public- and private-sector jobs despite the educational and occupational
prestige advantages for women working in the public sector. Miller (2009) found
that women have lower hourly rates of pay than males, regardless of employment
sector, though the gender pay gap is smaller for women working in the public
sector. He suggests that the presence of a sticky floor—here,...

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